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February 3, 2021

Chicago Accuses Online Vape Retailer of Underage Sales

The city of Chicago has filed a lawsuit against an online vape retailer, alleging the company sold age-restricted and flavored vaping products to minors. The legal action follows a sting operation in which city employees successfully ordered products through the vendor’s website without providing proper identification.

The businesses named in the action are Vapes.com and its parent company Equte, LLC, both based in Minnesota. The lawsuit, filed by Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP), and the Department of Law, alleges that Vapes.com engaged in “marketing and selling flavored vaping products, including to underage Chicagoans.”

“The City of Chicago’s message to vaping companies is clear,” Mayor Lightfoot said in a press release. “If you break the law, we will go after you, especially if you try to sell to our youth.”

As difficult as it is to believe that an vape retailer in 2021 would do online business without robust age verification software (and wouldn’t know which locations don’t allow sales flavored products), this isn’t the only recent example. In December, five online vendors admitted illegal online sales and settled with Washington State, agreeing to pay more than $130,000 to avoid lawsuits.

Chicago passed a flavored vape ban last September, after the original ordinance, which would have banned menthol cigarettes, was abandoned. The cigarette ban’s sponsor, Alderman Matt O’Shea, backed down after encountering a firestorm of opposition from convenience store and gas station owners—and the tobacco companies.

O’Shea “made a deal with the tobacco industry — don’t touch our menthol cigarettes and we will support you banning a tiny percentage of our revenues (flavored vaping products),” American Vaping Association President Gregory Conley said on Twitter.

The city began conducting sting operations in 2018 to snag non-compliant online retailers, bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlements with dozens of vendors. That was during the reign of notorious anti-vaping Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who also presided over multiple vape tax bills and attempted to ban flavors during his time in office.

Smokers created vaping without help from the tobacco industry or anti-smoking crusaders, and I believe vapers have the right to continue innovating to help themselves. My goal is to provide clear, honest information about the challenges vaping faces from lawmakers, regulators, and brokers of disinformation. I’m a member of the CASAA board, but my opinions aren’t necessarily CASAA’s, and vice versa. You can find me on Twitter @whycherrywhy
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